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January  13, 2009

Dr. Anderson featured after winning national award

(Editor's note:  Retired Augustana College professor Richard C. Anderson, who died Jan. 8, 2009, is the subject of the following story published in The Rock Island Argus on Oct. 30, 1992. It is republished here with permission of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus.)

ROCK ISLAND -- Richard C. Anderson has worked 35 years to open young minds to the world around them -- the world of rocks and landscapes, that is.

A geology professor at Augustana since 1957, Mr. Anderson won the 1992 Neil A. Miner Award from the National Association of Geology Teachers. The award recognizes a single college or university teacher annually for "exceptional contributions to the stimulation of interest in the earth sciences."

He returned this week from Cincinnati, where he was recognized at the combined meeting of the NAGT and the Geological Society of America.

A combination of teaching, research and past service to the geologic community are criteria for the award which was established in 1952.

 "It's true we're selective in what we actually see," said the veteran geology professor, seated in an earth sciences classroom at Augustana College one morning this week. "I try to get (students) out looking at things outside the classroom," the professor said. "If I know where students are from, I draw examples from places they have visited or are familiar with or their hometowns. You make geology interesting by trying to relate it to their own personal experiences. You can tell them to keep their eyes open for such and such the next time they go home."

He was nominated by students and colleagues.

 The award "came as a complete surprise," Mr. Anderson said. "I'd never considered that I'd be nominated."

 The classroom is a big place for Mr. Anderson's students. They spend about as much time learning outside as they do indoors. It's typical for students to voluntarily take short and extended camping field trips in and out of the Midwest. They have traveled to upper Michigan, the Iron Range in northern Minnesota, the Ozark Mountain region, southern Illinois as well as the Florida Keys, the Big Bend in Texas and Yellowstone National Park.

On those trips, students study quarries, road cuts, rocks, landscapes, stream banks and mountain tops.

 "For most of the students, they have never been to these places before," Mr. Anderson said.

Geology alumni don't quickly forget their outdoor experiences.

"Week after week, there are half-day, one-day, some two-day, and at least once a year, a multi-day field trip to areas from five miles away to more than 1,000 miles away," said James Miller, a 1965 graduate and now professor of geology at Southwest Missouri State University. "I never knew how (Mr. Anderson) did it, because I think he was on every trip."

"His skills at taking the natural beauty of an area like that, and then turning it into a laboratory for learning, and for having a great time, fully made me a confirmed geology major," said Philip R. Bowden, recalling a spring break trip to the Grand Canyon. He graduated in 1977 and works as a senior geophysicist for Exxon Corp.

Mr. Miller described his former professor as "a man who quietly can make the Earth come alive to his students."

On his teaching style, Mr. Anderson said, "I don't think I put a lot of pressure on students. I try to give them as many opportunities to learn as I can and I hope something turns them on."

Since 1959, Mr. Anderson has spent summers working as a research associate of the Illinois State Geological Survey. He has mapped the surficial geology of a number of quadrangles in the northern third of the state, and among his publications are a monograph on geology for planning in Rock Island County and numerous works on the drainage evolution of the Mississippi River.

 "It's fun," he said. "I enjoy it but I wouldn't say it's the cutting edge. It keeps me in touch."

Mr. Anderson was appointed Fritiof Fryxell Professor in Geology in 1986, the first to occupy a newly-endowed chair honoring the founder of Augustana's program in the earth sciences. Mr. Fryxell was one of Mr. Anderson's professors when he studied at Augustana.

After graduating from Augustana, Mr. Anderson enrolled in the University of Chicago, where he earned a doctoral degree in geology. He went to work for a consulting firm in Denver. After a few years, Mr. Anderson decided he wanted to do something different.

The professor has a subtle sense of humor. Of his early consulting work, Mr. Anderson said, "I learned a lot. One of the things I learned was I didn't want to do it for the rest of my life.

"I called Dr. Fryxell and asked if he knew of any teaching positions," he recalled. "I don't think it was an hour or two later he called back and asked if I'd be interested in teaching at Augustana."